In the 2013 U.S. Census, it was estimated that 70 million to 78 million dogs live, play and poop in the United States. As most of us know, Coloradans are among the top dog lovers in the country. According to Forbes, Colorado claims two of the top 10 most pet-friendly cities in America — Colorado Springs and Denver. Residents of this valley are no exception. Around 20,000 of our furry and beloved doggy friends live right here in Eagle County.
We love them, but don’t always enjoy cleaning up after them. Picking up after our dogs is crucial for our health, the health of our pets, and Eagle County’s environment as a whole. The simple act of picking up after our dogs can help prevent harmful nutrients and bacteria from entering our waterways, keep our citizens healthy and our yards and shoes clean.
DON’T SWEEP IT UNDER SNOW
During winter, when it’s frigidly cold and dog walks are cut to a minimum, it can sometimes be too easy to just brush the snow over our dog’s waste and forget about it. The unseen consequences are devastating, however, especially when looking at the big picture. Studies have found that roughly 40 percent of Americans don’t pick up after their dogs. In fact, dog waste accounts for 20 to 30 percent of the bacteria that pollutes our urban and suburban waterways. Though dog waste is not the largest or most toxic pollutant around, it is one of many smaller sources of pollution that can add up to a big problem.
So why is dog waste any worse than that from bears, deer, elk, and fox? Dog waste differs from wild animal waste because of the preservatives and added chemicals in their food. There is also a much higher concentration of dogs in residential areas leading to a higher concentration of feces.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations conducted a study and found that decaying pet waste consumes oxygen and releases ammonia. Low oxygen levels and ammonia in rivers can damage the health of fish and other aquatic life.
Additionally, pet waste carries bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can threaten the health of humans and wildlife. Some bacteria and parasites that can be transmitted from dog waste to humans include: Campylobacteriosis, a bacterial infection carried by dogs and cats that frequently causes diarrhea in humans; Cryptosporidium, a protozoan parasite with common symptoms including diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and dehydration; and Toxocariasis, roundworms usually transmitted from dogs to humans, often without noticeable symptoms, but may cause vision loss, a rash, fever or cough.
Stormwater and snowmelt almost always enters waterways untreated. Because of this, animal feces often ends up in rivers and streams, causing significant water pollution and in some cases restrictions on fishing and swimming.
KEEP IT CLEAN
The Keep It Clean Partnership on Stormwater Protection gives these suggestions: “Be prepared. Carry bags with you to pick up waste. It’s a good idea to carry a few extras with you in case you meet someone in need. Collect your pet’s poop in a bag and deposit it in a trash can, or dump the poop in the toilet without the bag. Do not leave bags on the side of trails — there isn’t anyone designated to pick them up. Routinely pick up your pet’s waste so you’re not contributing to decreased downstream water quality.”
So, next time you take Fido for a walk in this beautiful place we call home, remember to pick up the waste or contact a pet waste removal service available here in the valley (yes, they do exist).
Brooke Ranney is the projects and events coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Eagle Rive Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at 970-827-5406 or visit www.erwc.org for more information.
This article ran in the Vail Daily on October 29, 2016.